How to Make Fried Catfish

Updated: Jul. 12, 2023

Fried catfish is a Southern staple everyone should get behind. The golden-brown, cornmeal-crusted fish is super easy to make and delicious served with your favorite sides and sauces.

When it comes to frying fish, you should have a comfortable grasp on three things: what kind of coating to use, which is the best oil to fry fish and knowing the best fish to fry. And catfish is a delicious place to start.

Catfish, a freshwater fish prized for its mildly sweet flavor and white, flaky texture, is one of the best for a good old-fashioned fish fry. It’s accessible all over the country, both fresh and frozen, and pretty economical. You can use any coating for it, but really the best is a simple cornmeal crust that gets golden brown and crunchy hot out of the oil. When choosing which oil to use for frying, make sure it has a high smoke point and neutral flavor—or at least light in flavor, like peanut oil.

Larger wild-caught catfish can sometimes taste a little muddy—catfish are a bottom-dwelling fish, after all—so soaking in milk or buttermilk helps alleviate that taste. But you can soak farm-raised catfish just the same—the process helps the cornmeal adhere to the fish either way.

While fried catfish is a staple dish in Southern states, catfish has been caught and farmed for hundreds of years in Africa, Asia, Europe and all over North America, and used in a variety of soups, stews and grilled dishes. Traditionally, you’ll see the Southern version served with hush puppies, fries and coleslaw, but you can serve any fish-fry favorites alongside it. Don’t forget the hot sauce!

How to Make Fried Catfish

This recipe comes from Taste of Home contributor Pattie Prescott. It yields six servings.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup white cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 6 catfish fillets (6 ounces each)
  • Oil for deep-fat frying

Directions

Fried CatfishTMB Studio

Step 1: Make the coating

Place buttermilk in a shallow bowl or container. You can add the catfish to soak or leave to dip individual pieces. In another shallow bowl or container, combine the cornmeal, flour and seasonings.

Step 2: Get the oil nice and hot

In a deep skillet (cast-iron is best), pour in enough oil to go up the sides about 1 inch. You’ll want the oil to heat to around 375°F, the best frying temperature for fish.

Turn the oven to 200° to keep the catfish warm while you fry in batches. Place a wire rack on top of a baking sheet and place inside the oven.

Step 3: Coat the catfish

When the oil is ready, take a piece of catfish from the buttermilk, allowing extra to drip off of the fillet. Then dredge the catfish in the cornmeal and flour mixture.

Step 4: Fry the catfish

Once the oil reaches the deep-frying temperature, shake off excess cornmeal from the catfish fillets and fry a few at a time for two to three minutes on each side. Don’t overcrowd the pan. When done, the fish should flake easily with a fork.

Drain on paper towels, and then place on the rack in the oven to stay warm and crispy while you fry the rest of the catfish. To ensure crispy fish in every batch, make sure the oil reaches the proper frying temperature again if it dips. When all the catfish is done, serve with your favorite sides.

What to Serve with Fried Catfish

A traditional fried catfish dinner might come with hush puppies, creamy coleslaw and french fries. But you can serve anything you’d serve with any fish fry, such as old-fashioned potato salad, tartar sauce and bread and butter pickles. Hot sauce is a great idea, too!

You can also make a spicy aioli to go with the catfish. Combine 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 garlic cloves (minced), 1 1/2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Fried Catfish Tips

Can you use frozen catfish fillets?

Yes! Just thaw the catfish fillets first. To do so, fill a bowl with hot water, place the fish in a plastic re-sealable bag, and allow it to sit in the water until the filet has some elasticity. Once thawed, dip the fillets in buttermilk and dredge in cornmeal mixture, then fry as directed.

How can you make sure the fried catfish is crispy?

Make sure the oil stays at a consistent 375°. If you’re frying in batches, allow the oil to come back up to temperature; if it’s getting too hot, lower the heat and wait until it reaches the right temperature. A thermometer is a great tool to have on hand for deep-frying anything. Also, don’t crowd the pan with the fish.

Can you freeze fried catfish?

You sure can. Leftover fried catfish can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days, and up to three months in the freezer. To reheat leftovers, skip the microwave; it can dry out the fish. Use an air fryer or your oven to get it nice and crispy again.